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County sends an additional $1 million to help refugees find work

Two people shaking hands
Sora Shimazaki

Four agencies that serve refugees will have an additional $1 million to help connect clients to employment.

Franklin County commissioners this week awarded the additional money to Community Refugee and Immigration Services, Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services, Jewish Family Services and US Together Inc., using money from an Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services grant.

Since September, the agencies used a shared $561,000 to connect 500 recent arrivals to Central Ohio with jobs. The agencies had 750 people enrolled in services during the time, so about 66 percent of the participants were placed with work through the program, according to documents filed with the county commissioners.

The average hourly wage for the people assisted is $15.86. A living wage in the greater Columbus area is $14.12 an hour for a single person and $30.66 for a single person caring for a child, according to the living wage calculator provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At Jewish Family Services, Tariq Mohamed is the director of services for new Americans.

He said refugees are distinct from typical immigrants.

“A refugee is somebody who escaped a war, destruction. And, the average refugee in the United States have lived in refugee camps for 20 years,” Mohamed said.

He said, that often means they are arriving in the U.S. after living in the “terrible conditions” offered in refugee camps.

“You’re talking about a human being that lived in a place where the education, the malnutrition, everything was extremely difficult. Employment --- never had, because when a refugee flees their country and goes to another country, they’re not allowed to work,” Mohamed said.

And, the refugees are coming to the area with little knowledge of how to navigate through the bureaucratic and cultural norms of the Columbus region.

“The challenges are ‘A,’ you don’t know the language, ‘B,’ you don’t know how to read your own language, and how do you apply for a job, for example? In the U.S. and online,” he said.

Agencies like his take several avenues of approach to help a new arrival find a new job, which is something often required of the person shortly after arriving. Mohamed said refugees are often expected to get a job immediately to survive.

So, they work with the newcomers on the types of skills they’ll need to work. They place the people with translators who are familiar with their cultures and who can help them navigate the ins and outs of everyday life in a brand new culture.

They find the right types of employment opportunities that fulfill an employer’s needs and meet the skills of the refugee, often by developing close relationships with the companies to find solutions that streamline hiring and retain the employees, Mohamed said.

Mohamed said public transit that covers the working world’s need for 24-hour transportation to cover all shifts is yet another challenge faced by refugees resettling in the Columbus region.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.